Robots learn to pick only ripe peppers

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In Belgium, a boxy yellow robot rolled through the rows of yellow pepper patches in a greenhouse, spotting and picking the ripened fruit. Moving along the tall leafy plants, the robot paused whenever its camera detected a ripe yellow pepper and then with a quick move of a blade, cut the stem, grabbing the fruit with a palm-like catcher.

Named SWEEPER, the robot is a result of a collaboration between Israeli, Dutch, Swedish and Belgian scientists – a complex piece of equipment aimed to help farmers and agricultural workers in the harvesting process.

The team used thousands of pictures of peppers to teach the robot to identify the vegetables and harvest them gently without damaging them or the plant they grew on. The team learned that peppers aren’t the only items SWEEPER should be able to handle. With modification, similar robots can be devised to gather apples or tomatoes, for example.